The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) has been struggling as of late. That's not breaking news. Desperate times call for desperate measures and that too is not breaking news. You can best be sure, OWN executives made the announcement of targeting African-American viewers as a weather balloon, a message in the bottle, smoke signal... call it what you want. This information was released specifically so the network could gauge if there will be any initial uptick in chatter in Black media; how the move is perceived and whether it will translate to expanded viewership.
Be careful what you ask for...
With that in mind, know that Mo'Kelly's thoughts will also be in their stack of press mentions. OWN president Erik Logan and Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav, I'm speaking to you.
The inherent selling point of OWN was found in its name, the "Oprah Winfrey Network." It was to be an extension and expansion of its mogul and namesake's media vision. People literally the world over love Oprah Winfrey. The assumption that such love extends to all things related to Oprah, yet not necessarily starring Oprah, has turned out to be a misguided one.
Let me digress for a moment.
Ever noticed that when a black man is President of the United States of America, the world is on the precipice of disaster? Think Barack Obama in 2008. Think Herman Cain in terms of the Republican Party for all of two weeks in 2011. Remember Danny Glover in the movie 2012. Think Morgan Freeman in the movie, Deep Impact. Call to memory Dennis Haysbert in 24.
All humor has a hint of truth in it. This too is one of those occasions. When the world is on the verge of being destroyed, give the African-Americans a chance. When there's seemingly there's nothing left to spitball, call in the Black people.
Captain Save-an-"O" to the rescue! Up, up and away!
There is a common thread to all of this. Part of the reason that the GOP has been largely unsuccessful in its attempts to court African-American voters is the perceived insincerity and seeming desperation of its attempts. Republicans come asking for votes come election time yet are largely disconnected from African-Americans, our collective interests and concerns of our urban centers the rest of the time.
End of digression and here's the connection.
Oprah Winfrey, has never produced her daytime television program, radio network or cable network with African-Americans in mind. That is not a value judgment. Let me say it again, that's NOT a value judgment, but for some in the African-American community it has been an issue of contention.
Nevertheless, it is a statement of fact. None of the aforementioned media properties has ever been about the business of featuring programming content that specifically speaks to the African-American experience, culture or social ethos. Do note, prior to helming OWN, Erik Logan was the president of Harpo Productions.
Even the highly regarded Adweek.com openly mused that such a programming course change "could put network at odds with Oprah's image."
Put another way, getting cozy with African-American viewers might not only be "incongruous" with the Oprah Winfrey brand, but possibly alienate her core viewers too. No matter how one parses such a reality, it is insulting in innumerable ways.
If marketing the most successful African-American (male or female) in the history of media to African-Americans is only now being considered in earnest, OWN is doomed. If "We" weren't important enough to be taken seriously in the construction of the Winfrey empire, why turn to us now if on the verge of crumbling? We only matter "now," because somebody is desperate? Desperation is never connected to sincerity.
If OWN truly wishes to connect with African-American viewers, it must be sincere in its efforts; feature programming specific to the African-American experience, something Oprah Winfrey heretofore has been loathe to do. Again, not a value judgment, just stating the facts. Successfully connecting with African-Americans requires more than simply adding to the sum total of Black faces found on the network.
It requires sincerity and the knowledge that OWN isn't only courting Black viewership in the way that Republicans court Black votes; only to move on when the election has passed or ratings crisis has abated.
We've seen this story before.
Once-fledgling network FOX, and the now defunct UPN and The WB made it a point to feature Black sitcoms as a quick/easy fix to drum up viewership, only to shift direction altogether when the short term goals were reached and our collective services were no longer needed.
It's nice to know that OWN is now willing to recognize the economic viability of African-American viewers. It's unfortunate to know that it happened under the threat of cable extinction. This change in programming strategy feels more like the proverbial 2am booty call, not a marriage proposal.
Black People, a.k.a Captain Save-an-O to the rescue! Up, up and away!
Morris W. O'Kelly (Mo'Kelly) is a political correspondent for the BBC Radio and Television networks and author of the syndicated column The Mo'Kelly Report. For more Mo'Kelly, go to his site. Mo'Kelly can be reached at email@example.com and welcomes all commentary.